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Julian Opie’s art encourages another look

Julian Opie’s art encourages another look

It is understandable that as we move through the world it is easy to overload some of the sounds, sights and stimulus.  We learn to filter out aspects of the thousands of images we see that do not relate to our current task.  This means that we can travel and arrive at our destination without realising and remembering how we got there.  During the journey, there may have been people, rolling hills or city blocks.  However, all we see is the vital information that we need to help us when we reach our destination.  Julian Opie takes pleasure from seeing what is being ignored and encourages everyone else to have another look.  Instead of zoning out, and missing what is around us, his art says you don’t see that well, have a deeper look.


Artists like Julian Opie were often blind to this fact until they took their first drawing class.  It is there where they learn to look at the physical world and transfer what they observed on to the flat surface of a canvas.  Suddenly as they look at the shapes, forms, colours and tones, they start to notice things they had never seen before.

Stuart Bush Studio Notes, Julian Opie art, Julian Opie's art

Julian Opie (Julian with T-shirt) self-portrait 2005 all rights remain with the artist

Stuart Bush Studio Notes – Julian Opie link

Julian Opie explained that when he was developing his ideas for his artwork which featured people, he looked at the figures on Greek vases and stone-carved Roman friezes of the battling warriors.  Using photographs of figures walking combined with the images on the vases and friezes, Opie started to use them as reference material which allowed him to draw a new aesthetic with thick black lines.  The Greek and Roman dresses on the vases and friezes are replaced with Lycra, sporty trainers and mobile phones.


Although Julian Opie’s knows that we know how to read each other’s faces.  In his portraits, his challenge is to reflect a face on a two-dimensional surface.  Encouraging the viewer to look again and to see things differently.

Stuart Bush Studio Notes, Julian Opie art, Julian Opie's art

Alabastron attico, 500-450 a.C. Parigi, Cabinet des médailles, De Ridder 508

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For his portrait series of work, Julian Opie continues to use thick black lines to capture images like caricatures. For his landscape series, rather than just painting what he sees or using the thick black lines from his figures, Opie realises that he has to learn and understand more about what he is seeing.  He visited the works of the Old Masters to see if he could understand how they overcome such problems.


Looking closely at artist work like Rembrandt and Pontormo, he noticed that they often treated an area or a shape of the shadow as a flat colour.  In these areas, there is no line or shading.  By comparing areas of dark and light tone and colour next to each other, Opie realised that by painting areas of flat colours he could then include these forms that most people would not have observed to form his artwork.

Stuart Bush Studio Notes, Bassar Frieze

Bassar Frieze carved just before 400 B.C.

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In Julian Opie’s art, as he simplifies people, buildings and the landscape, while also seeking to open up the viewer’s peripheral vision. Hoping to enable them to develop the tools of looking in their mind’s eye.


Julian Opie paintings reflect what we are all so familiar with everyday life.  However, Opie does it in such a clever way that he is able to encourage the viewer to scrutinise what they think they see as if they have never really seen it before.  With repetition and hard work, each artist comes up with their own laws to enable them to communicate what they see.  Opie has realised something that most people haven’t noticed, that after repeated viewing, after repeated looking, things start to become familiar to the viewer.   As a consequence, Julian Opie has created his distinctive style, a style that is instantly recognisable as a ‘Julian Opie’.

Stuart Bush Studio Notes, Julian Opie art

Julain Opie, There are hills in the distance 1996 all rights remain with the artist

Julian Opie’s art

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